How some textbooks can stifle our creativity

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Recently, I read the very interesting article by Harvard Business School’s Professor, Clay Christensen in the January Edition of Harvard Business Review. It is a masterpiece on innovation in Africa and a must-read for anyone who is doing business on the continent. The lessons were particularly profound for me, especially as a Nigerian who truly believes in the Nigerian renaissance and the pertinent role that our human capital has in driving this revolution.

The particular point that resonated with me was Christensen’s comment that there is a dearth of skilled human capital especially in the areas of basic leadership and management skills – managing change, teamwork and creative problem solving. I then started to ask myself – how a country like Nigeria and Nigerians; all of us in spite of our very extensive education (boasting of millions of university graduates, hundreds of thousands of doctorate degree holders and a similar number of certified professionals) could still have a dearth of corporate leadership skills.

The answer is not far-fetched, it is the very education that we have that should have positioned us with the right skills that has inexplicably created a situation where we have plenty of graduate employees and even millions of unemployable graduates that do not have the right leadership and life skills.

Sir Ken Robinson, one of the most respected thought leaders in the field of education is of the opinion that formal education kills creativity, and has done extensive research that has validated his assertion. Interestingly, most of Sir Robinson’s work has been in the United Kingdom and the United States where formal education programs are better and where workers are better skilled– I can only imagine what his research results will show if he tried to study Nigeria.

I have pondered for years on Sir Robinson’s thoughts and now I have found one of the root causes – the quality of textbooks especially at the Primary School Level. For example, I was shocked to see a Social Studies textbook approved for Primary Schools where the author wrote (I paraphrase) – “Not knowing someone” was a reason for unemployment in Nigeria. I had to get the class teacher not to convey that to the pupils.

Another even more glaring example will be the quality of resources available for standardized test preparation in Nigeria, specifically for young children in primary school preparing for entrance exams into secondary schools. All the Nigerian books I have seen in English, Maths and the other Aptitudes do not have suggested answers or solutions. So, how can the children actually self- study? How do they revise? Compare this to the foreign books for the same purpose especially the ones for American high schools – you will not only find answers but also a breakdown of how the questions were solved, and in English language for example, the explanation of the correct answer even for comprehension questions. This way children can really study by themselves, learn from the suggested solutions and practice by themselves.

Beyond passing exams, resources with suggested solutions that are well explained prepare children for not just independent study in future, but also for independence in the workplace. I find that in the workplace today there is a dearth of skills and abilities when it comes to reading, analyzing and using what you have learnt to solve problems. Perhaps it has to do with the foundation we got in our primary schools, and could be the root cause of Clay Christensen‘s remark that is no doubt linked to the huge dependence for validation and guidance that our primary school books force children to have on our teachers and parents, transferring this “dependence” to their managers and bosses in the workplace and stifling their creativity, independence and problem solving skills.

I think it will be a great idea if Nigerian authors could create books that not just provide answers but explanations of the answers, and perhaps even DVDs and accompanying workbooks where the maths problems are solved. Children can learn on their own, rewind, pause the video and practice in their workbooks, stop depending on parents and teachers for validation, and begin to build the skills for independent study and work that will be required to me more creative and innovative.

I remember finding a book while in secondary school “Solutions to Physics by Abbott”. It helped me immensely: I moved from being an ordinary physics student to earning the nickname “Abbott”, and to excellent results in my SSCE Physics.

There is a lot that is wrong with education in Nigeria, and it is these seemingly small things that create the biggest problems. Thankfully, this is not a problem for the Government to solve, but one that right-thinking scholars, educators, teachers and authors can resolve. The way our prep books for children at that level are written today, with hundreds of questions without explanations and answers makes it rather difficult and challenging for children to study on their own, and makes preparations for these exams seem daunting.

Omagbitse Barrow is an Educator and Co-Founder of Creative Learning International School and Life Skills Experts, in Abuja
@gbitsebarrow

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